"With a great lead performance from an always reliable leading lady, a creative monster that is genuinely scary, excellent visuals and an overpowering atmosphere, Don’t Knock Twice has all the necessary elements"
I’ve possibly mentioned this before in prior reviews, but I’m a big fan of horror, and this love of the genre can make me extremely picky when it comes to looking at recent efforts from today’s directors.
Most are downright awful, being filled with jump scares so predictable they might as well come with a countdown and a claxon to give you a heads up that they’re incoming. Although, despite the vast majority being downright terrible, some are quite good, some are even brilliant, being genuinely scary and creative with their premises, and it’s those ones that go on to be the classics, discussed by all for decades to come.
The subject of today’s review, the British horror Don’t Knock Twice is not likely to become one of those classics, but you can’t (pun intended) knock it for trying.
Jess, an artist with a past of substance abuse is attempting to reconnect with her estranged daughter Chloe, who has been living in a children’s home for several years. When Chloe comes to live with her mother, their reunion is interrupted by the presence of a malicious spirit nicknamed “Ginger” who desires revenge for a past sin committed by Chloe. Soon the mother-daughter pair are forced to embark on a hunt for the truth involving the unsolved disappearance of a child and rid themselves of the demonic entity.
Katee Sackhoff leads the cast as Jess, proving herself, as always, to be a terrific performer, being utterly believable as the mother with a troubled past, desperate to make up for previous mistakes. Sackhoff presents the character as a mother who sacrificed the care of her child to enjoy a career of art and drugs, a career that has grown incredibly successful in her daughter’s absence, which feeds into her suffocating feelings of guilt, which Sackhoff brilliantly portrays through nice little touches such as picking at her hand almost obsessively and in her somewhat awkward attempts to bond with her daughter.
The monster of the film dubbed “Ginger” is one straight out of your nightmares, a terrifying creature, who's capacity to create fear is only heightened by the wise decision to never let the viewer get a proper look at it, with much of it being fleeting glances, or having it shot largely in dark shadows. Sometimes what you can’t see is scarier than what you can.
The visuals of the film also add to the creepy atmosphere, with creative POV shots from “Ginger” as it glides through a hallway or in a brilliant long take where we see the creature darting behind and in front of our character, never letting the viewer get a good look at it.
The plot and style of the film feels very much like it was influenced by horror films of past and present, with the whole mother and child dealing with a shadowy monster feeling somewhat reminiscent of recent horror gem The Babadook (2014).
Although I should stress that I am not accusing the film being a “copy cat”, far from it. Instead, it uses the various tried and tested horror tropes to play with the audiences expectations. Such as in an early scene, laden with spooky moments and jump scares in which the monster snares a helpless victim. After such a moment we normally expect a reprieve, to let us calm down, but here we don’t get that luxury as almost immediately we have the admittedly trouser soiling image of the monster crawling out a sink to claim another poor soul.
The film, while pretty spooky in moments and having some great acting from Sackhoff and her co-star Lucy Boynton as Chloe, is not quite the horror classic it’s hoping to be. While an effective chiller for the first 45 minutes or so, it becomes somewhat tiresome to watch, as the duo attempt to solve the mystery of “Ginger”. My growing weariness was not helped by my growing confusion as the plot went on, especially with the final twist of the film, which after going back and watching several times, I can’t fully work out what it all meant.
In closing, the various issues I had while watching ensure that the film is a long way from being a horror classic, but I can’t deny that it did have the potential to be one. With a great lead performance from an always reliable leading lady, a creative monster that is genuinely scary, excellent visuals and an overpowering atmosphere, Don’t Knock Twice has all the necessary elements of a good horror film, just not a great one.